WILKES-BARRE, Pa. --- Sophomore running back Eli Redmond ran for a pair of first half touchdowns and junior running back Chris Negron added a one-yard scoring run with just 51 seconds left as the Moravian College football team rallied late for a 21-17 non-conference win at King's College to open the 2015 season Saturday evening.
"I told the team right after the game that we're going to learn a lot from this game but the one thing that we learned here live was that we can preservere," commented Head Coach Jeff Pukszyn, who earns his second straight season-opening win. "We battled through a lot of stuff. There were highs and lows in the game but the players all stuck together so when we were down in the valley we came out of it because it was about us. The guys knew that we were making mistakes not putting ourselves in better situations, but they all stuck in and hung together for each other. When you do that, good things will happen and they did for us at the end of the game."
The Greyhounds were playing their first night game since the opening contest of the 2007 season Saturday while King's was playing its first night football contest at McCarthy Stadium since reinstituting football in 1993.
"It was a great atmosphere here tonight," stated Pukszyn. "Our players were really excited about it because some of the guys, especially the seniors, haven't been able to play under the lights in four years. It was an electric atmosphere and I'm glad we were able to pull out the win."
The game started slowly with both teams going three-and-out on their opening drives. The Hounds would begin their second possession of the season on their own 35-yard line. Negron ran for 17 yards on the second play of the drive and later, junior quarterback Mike Hayes connected on a 28-yard pass to sophomore tight end Nick Nejad to put Moravian in scoring position. On the next play, Redmond scampered off the left side eight yards into the end zone as the Greyhounds took an early lead with 9:37 left in the first quarter. Redmond's run capped a six-play, 65-yard drive in just 1:58. Senior Jerome Wachter added the extra-point for a 7-0 lead.
The teams traded punts again before the Monarchs began their third drive of the game. The King's marched 63 yards on 10 plays to tie the game at 7-7 on a 10-yard pass from Tom Hehre to Mike Palmer.
The Greyhounds needed just 2:50 to regain the advantage on the scoreboard. The seven-play, 77-yard drive saw a 16-yard run from Negron on the opening play, and Hayes hitting Negron with a 28-yard pass. Redmond ran for 26 yards to put Moravian into the red zone, and on the next play, he rushed in for his second touchdown of the evening. Wachter's extra-point put the Hounds up 14-7 with 12:37 to go in the first half. Redmond would finish the game with 49 yards on 12 carries, and he also caught three passes for 10 yards.
"Chris and Eli are great off of each other," explained Pukszyn. "The feed off each other and senior Luke Gotzon did a nice job of spelling them. We have three possibly more options in the backfield so I think we'll have a balanced offense all season."
The teams would each punt once again before King's started from their own 41-yard line. After six plays and gaining 39 yards, Mikhail Kniaziewicz kicked a 37-yard field goal to cut the Moravian lead to 14-10, which is where the scoreboard remained until the intermission.
Early in the third quarter both squads struggle to get much positive yardage. Moravian freshman linebacker Steve Ewald came up with an interception near midfield with a 10-yard return but the Hounds would end up punting on the drive.
The Greyhounds would get another turnover when senior defensive back Anthony Orlando intercepted a tipped pass on the next to last play of the third quarter. However, after a pair of first downs and moving the ball into King's territory, Hayes was intercepted for the second time in the game.
"Anthony is stepping into some special teams spots for us and we asked him to move back to safety after being more of a nickel linebacker last year and he is doing great," Pukszyn said. "He is also helping freshman Nick Zambelli adjust to being a starter in the defensive backfield for us."
The Monarchs would take over midway through the fourth quarter and drive down to take a 17-14 lead on a two-yard run by Hehre with 5:45 remaining in the contest.
Moravian would be forced into a three-and-out, and then King's took time off the clock before punting with 1:35. On the first play from its own 23-yard line, Hayes found sophomore wide receiver Aaron Hudson with a 17-yard pass off the right side. After a spike to stop the clock, Hayes found sophomore wideout Justice Anderson open down the seam, and Anderson raced 54 yards to the King's 6-yard line.
"All game it wasn't working but on that pass to Justice, I just got it in my mind that we've got to do this," Hayes said. "I saw Justice go right up the seam and ran a great route, and I ended up hitting him. The timing was great and the offensive line gave me all the time in the world I needed to make the pass."
Moravian called its final timeout with 1:09 to play, and Hayes connected on a five-yard pass to junior wide receiver Liam Nolan to the one-yard line. After another spike to stop the clock, Negron raced off the right side and into the end zone for his 19th career touchdown to move into sole possession of sixth place in school history. Negron finished the game with 88 yards on 15 carries to move within two yards of becoming the 10th 2,000-yard rusher in school history. Wachter would add the extra-point for a 21-17 lead with just 51 seconds to play.
Due to a penalty, Moravian kicked off from its own 20-yard line. After a pair of incompletions, King's connected on an eight-yard pass to bring up a 4th-and-2. Senior defensive lineman Ryan Pysher would get his hand on the pass to knock it down. Hayes then kneeled down three times to run out the clock.
"It was huge by Ryan," commented Pukszyn. "There is only so far the linemen will get on some plays and then they need to get those big paws up, and he did on that play to help us seal the win."
Moravian had 327 yards of total offense on 67 plays with Hayes completing 18-of-30 passes for 196 yards and another 131 yards on 35 rushing attempts. Negron caught five passes for 35 yards while senior tight end Andrew Racobaldo added three catches for 24 yards. Junior wide receiver Jalen Snyder-Scipio caught three passes for 23 yards to become the 17th player in school history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a career at 1,018 on 89 receptions.
"I saw a guy that didn't panic in Mike today," noted Pukszyn. "No one is mistake free out here including the coaches but he hung in there. He believed in everything that we were doing and everything that coach Tim McGorry has been teaching him. That's what made that successful play at the end of the game. It came down to the perseverance of the guys but Mike hung in there. I think last year, as a first year starter, that doesn't happen and it shows how he has matured in the position."
King's had 281 yards on 69 plays in the game while controlling the ball for 34:37.
Orlando led the Moravian defense with eight tackles to go with his interception and two passes defended while senior defensive back Jimmy McCarthy, senior linebacker Brendan Downey, Pysher and senior defensive lineman Tim McCabe all had seven takcles with McCabe adding one and a half sacks and two and a half tackles for loss. Ewald made six tackles with one and a half for loss in his first career start while senior defensive lineman Dan Bracken made five stops with two for loss.
McCarthy also punted eight times for an average of 38.8 yards and a long of 50 yards, and he returned four punts for 27 yards and one kickoff for nine yards. Redmond added three kickoff returns for 71 yards.
The Greyhounds will open their 2015 Centennial Conference season on Saturday, September 12 when the squad heads to McDaniel College for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff.